The holiday season is here, and although it’s meant to be a time of joy, family, and fun, it can also be a time of stress. Strained relationships with family, financial issues, and a change in routine contribute to the pressure, but social media is another significant, modern factor.

Social media can be a valuable tool, but it can also be a breeding ground for mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression, especially around the holidays. People who live with these conditions often find that their symptoms are exacerbated by social media use and even more so around the holidays. The biggest culprits are usually FOMO (fear of missing out) and toxic positivity.

mental health

What is toxic positivity?

Most people who are familiar with social media have heard of FOMO. We see social media posts that can make other people’s lives seem perfect; immaculately decorated homes, dream vacations, or even coordinated family pictures. This can create a sense of inadequacy or the feeling that we’re missing out on something.

Toxic positivity involves minimizing or dismissing negative emotions rather than responding with empathy. It’s supposed to have good intentions but can actually be harmful because it aims to avoid and suppress emotions like anxiety, depression, and grief, anxiety in favor of positive emotions. Doing this can cause feelings of disconnection, alienation, and shame.

Toxic positivity is a form of gaslighting. It implies that people should always try and maintain a positive mindset no matter the situation when many emotions and feelings should really be validated and addressed.

There were many examples of this on social media during the pandemic. Statements and graphics telling people to use their time in lockdown wisely or that things could be worse were prevalent. They often invalidated the legitimate stressors of dealing with losing someone to COVID-19, a lost job, or a new routine of working from home while simultaneously trying to juggle kids’ distance learning.

Why social media can be triggering for mental health around the holidays

Social media can be especially upsetting for many people during the holiday season because our news feed tends to get flooded with posts that only show the highlight reels. People tend to post the positives rather than the raw realities we can all experience. The non-stop barrage of these posts can be a source of insecurity, stress, and guilt that maybe we aren’t doing enough. On top of the regular holiday stress, it just adds another layer of anxiety.

When people try to force holiday cheer on themselves because they think it’s something that they’re supposed to do and that something must be wrong with them if they don’t feel joyful 24/7- that’s when it becomes toxic.

For many people, holiday traditions put a spotlight on the absence of loved ones. Not everyone has the opportunity to be surrounded by friends and family, so seeing constant posts of holiday parties and activities can be an emotional trigger. After another year of lives lost during the pandemic, many anticipate their first holiday season without a beloved family member or friend.

Seeing other people’s seemingly perfect lives while you feel like you barely have yours together is the ideal recipe for a downward emotional spiral. The good news is that it is avoidable! There are a few things you can do to try and protect yourself against the holiday triggers on social media.

Tips for reducing social media stress during the holidays

Unplug

Make an effort not to check social media for designated amounts of time. Instead, use the time for some self-care or to connect in person with your support network.

Remember that things aren’t always as they seem.

Social media feeds are often far from reality. We don’t know what goes on beyond the camera, and it’s important to keep perspective when being an observer of other people’s lives. Remind yourself that what you’re seeing is curated, and the grass isn’t always greener.

Practice Gratitude

Instead of comparing your life to others and wishing you were somewhere else for the holidays, take the opportunity to focus on yourself and what you are really thankful for.

We all know much of the content on social media is curated; however, it’s still easy to get sucked in. It’s important to remember that those photos on your social media feed are just that- moments. Even during the most challenging times, most people can get it together for a single moment.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed during the holiday season, don’t be afraid to seek help. Call Serene Health at 844-737-3638 or visit www.serenehealth.com to schedule an appointment. We offer a variety of behavioral health and mental health services and have appointments available seven days a week.